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Then vs. Now: The Modern Ranch Home

In the early 1900s, Greek Revival homes and Gothic cottages dotted the American landscape. They were tall structures, featuring thick pillars, pointed roofs and ornate, castle-like features. As self-taught California architect Cliff May watched these European-style properties sprouting around him, he envisioned an alternative.

Instead of grand, opulent architecture, homes would be long and low to the ground, as if to complement the earth beneath them. They would boast large windows to welcome natural light indoors and open spaces to encourage casual family living. Eventually, Mays dream turned to reality and ushered in a new era of truly American architecture, appealing to country folk and city dwellers alike.

The Father of the American Ranch House

In 1932, Cliff May created what many architectural historians consider the first Ranch home in San Diego, California.

Unlike his predecessors who perpetuated European designs, May drew inspiration from simple Mexican cattle ranches, where he spent much of his childhood. Spanish haciendas had thick, adobe walls and low rooflines, often blending in with the surrounding landscape. May incorporated these characteristics in his early builds, along with decorative tiles and motifs reminiscent of Mexican culture.

In addition, Mays homes echoed those of architectural icons like Frank Lloyd Wright, who pioneered the well-known Prairie Style. Wright, too, felt that elaborate European homes detracted from the American landscape and instead expressed a yearning for simplicity. These designers found efficient, innovative ways to utilize and connect spaces, well-suited for a modern American lifestyle. 

An American Design

What set Mays homes apart were their subtle nods toward casual California living. Although garages traditionally sat behind homes, May moved them to the front to create space for a private inner courtyard. He also carefully arranged large windows and doors throughout his homes to draw in light and capture the scenic outdoors. 

The Ranch house was everything a California house should be, May later shared with The New York Times. It had cross-ventilation, the floor was level with the ground and with its courtyard and the exterior corridor, it was about sunshine and informal outdoor living. Eventually, Mays designs developed into an established style of their own, and today hes fondly remembered as the Father of the American Ranch House.

Ranch Homes Expand in Size and Style

The modern Ranch evolved over time, collecting new admirers and adaptations as it aged. By the 1950s, Ranch homes accounted for nine out of every 10 new homes in America, and today it remains a national favorite with 34 states naming Ranch homes their most popular style.

Layered Living Spaces

As decades progressed, American houses grew in size, and many Ranch-style properties followed suit. Split-level homes and raised Ranches (a Ranch house set on a foundation that allows living space below the main level, such as a garage or den) became popular in the latter half of the 20th century, to accommodate more space on smaller lots. These homes would often separate areas using short stairways, which created designated floors for an open living space, private bedrooms and the basement or garage.

For the Minimal and Extravagant

The simple layouts of Ranch-style houses worked well with a wide variety of styles, from Spanish Colonials to Neo-Mediterranean designs. As a result, builders and buyers could implement their own personal preferences.

Traditional designs could feature brick faces with hardwood floors inside, while rustic ramblers possess elaborate stonework and heavy wood beams. Modern interpretations might have sleep concrete, wood or stucco exteriors, bordering grand floor-to-ceiling windows. Meanwhile, some Ranch homes still bear the original white stucco and clay shingles that inspired Cliff May in the 1930s.

Modern Buyers Crave Vintage Ranches

With nearly a century to develop, todays modern Ranch attracts buyers with both contemporary and classic tastes. Nevertheless, the styles original features remain prominent in current residential construction.

ranch home
The main home at Moore Ranch in Maypearl, Texas, price upon request, is a textbook example of traditional Ranch-house architecture. Click here to explore it.

Easy Entertaining and Casual Living

In a 2017 survey from the National Association of Realtors, 70 percent of homebuyers preferred some type of open kitchen-family room arrangement in their home. With rooms flowing seamlessly from one to another, open floor plans become ideal multipurpose spaces, suitable for large gatherings as well as intimate family living. These layouts make the most of a homes footprint by removing any unnecessary walls and hallways. As a result, Ranch homes offer an airy and inviting feel and give homeowners creative liberty to utilize spaces as they see fit.

Inviting the Outdoors in

Many modern buyers long for a home that will welcome the beauty of nature indoors, and Ranch homes fit the profile well. Large windows pull natural light inside, while low-pitched roofs mimi wide, open plains. Sliding glass doors provide a gateway to the outdoors, facilitating a seamless connection from the living area to a covered patio or perhaps even a pool. These homes typically have an L- or U-shaped layout, embracing a central courtyard where family and guests can gather together.

A Timeless Texas Ranch: The Total Package

By 2019, Ranch homes became the most popular style in America; and in Texas, these properties take casual living and connection with nature to a new level.

Situated on sprawling countryside adorned with creeks, barns and pasture lands, these luxury ranch homes sited on authentic Texas ranches offer not just a style, but a lifestyle. The possibilities are endless because Texas ranches come in all sizes and types, writes Robbie Briggs, president and CEO of Briggs Freeman Sothebys International Realty, from two-acre weekend getaways to vast spreads that could be thousands upon thousands of acres, dotted with multiple lakes, multiple residences and wildlife galore.

The unique pairing of practical land use and aesthetic appeal also makes Texas ranch homes lucrative investment opportunities. According to data from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Texas rural lands have seen a steady increase in value over nearly a decades time, from $346 per acre in 2010 to $488 in 2019. Investing in Texas land is perhaps the safest bet you could make, now or anytime, and you can enjoy that asset while it builds equity, says Briggs.

These versatile properties make Texas ranch homes the complete package for buyers in search of new income streams, scenic views, or a peaceful retreat for family and friends.

Pictured at top: The Stone House Ranch, 9674 County Road 106, Celina, Texas, available for $6,975,000, is a stunning example of contemporary Texas-style Ranch architecture .


  1. http://www.sohosandiego.org/tourbooklets/CliffMayTourweb.pdf
  2. http://www.antiquehome.org/Architectural-Style/prairie.htm
  3. https://flwright.org/researchexplore/prairiestyle
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/07/03/garden/the-man-behind-the-ranch-house.html
  5. https://slate.com/culture/2007/04/how-america-fell-in-and-out-of-love-with-the-ranch-house.html
  6. https://www.trulia.com/blog/guide-to-most-popular-home-styles/
  7. https://www.aei.org/carpe-diem/todays-new-homes-are-1000-square-feet-larger-than-in-1973-and-the-living-space-per-person-has-doubled-over-last-40-years/
  8. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/difference-between-raised-ranch-splitlevel-100740.html
  9. https://www.thoughtco.com/house-style-guide-american-home-4065233
  10. https://dev-realtormag.realtor.org/daily-news/2017/01/18/open-floor-plan-still-popular
  11. https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/popular-home-styles-summer-2019-36615828
  12. https://www.recenter.tamu.edu/data/rural-land/#!/state/Texas

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